Industrial Town • Preston Guild City
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Preston Guild City

Industrial Town

Horrockses Fashion, Preston, Lancashire

Alongside Defoe’s description (see Regional Capital), there is another perhaps better known description, based on Charles Dickens’ experiences of Preston during the Great Lock Out and Strike of 1853/54, his inspiration for the publication of 'Hard Times'.

Dickens wrote:

‘It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled’,

The celebrated author named his fictional Northern industrial town setting, Coketown.

That period of unrest in 1853/54 made headline news across the country, the struggle of the cotton workers against the Preston Cotton Masters also encouraging Dickens’ friend Elizabeth Gaskell to write the hugely successful 'North and South'.

Soon, the picturesque Georgian town visited by Defoe and Celia Fiennes had been transformed by the Industrial Revolution, bringing the mills and engineering works, housing, canals and railways.

Cotton was the principal employer, at least for women, in Preston for more than 150 years, and famous names such as Horrockses, Goodhair and Hawkins sent its cotton cloth all around the world.

Preston was the seat of major technical developments too, and it was here that the inventors Richard Arkwright and John Kay developed their highly important spinning frame.

Many of those mill buildings still survive, some now developed into housing and offices - not just showing the mill town of past, but also of an industrial town which embraced technology and innovation.

The industrial heritage doesn’t stop there either, with many more names emerging in the following years, including Dick, Kerr & Co.’s electric works for trams, and Goss for printing presses.

Meanwhile, nearby Leyland became world renowned for BTR’s tyres and rubber products and Leyland Motors’ commercial vehicles, the area also becoming a major base for BAE Systems and the aerospace industry.

Image: Postcard depicting Horrockses fashion courtesy of the Harris Museum & Art Gallery